The New Year resolution on here was to refrain from taking the mickey out of Independent News and Media, the publishers of the Independent and the Sunday Independent. The group is in severe trouble with debt, and what might be euphemistically described as “challenging” market conditions. The group is not alone facing challenges – the Communicorp radio group, RTE, TV3, TCH which publishes the Sunday Business Post and Irish Examiner, and even the venerable Irish Times are all facing severe challenges. But IN&M is particularly suffering with €400m of bank loans imminently due, with a share price that is down 85% from when Gavin O’Reilly was deposed last year, revenues falling and the group is presently valued at a marginal €20m, down from over €1bn at the peak in 2007.
IN&M’s woes threaten the plurality of media in Ireland, and it does have a stable that includes talented journalists. So at a certain point, poking fun at a group which has itself luxuriated in the misfortunes of others, just starts being cruel, however satisfying. Thus, the New Year resolution.
But three weeks into the New Year, the resolution is broken. Tom Lyons’ piece this morning, which itself looks like a regurgitation of an analysis in The 2012 Phoenix Annual, and factually describes what is a parlous situation at TCH, was just too much to resist – somehow TCH’s €25m of bank loans looks insignificant when set against the €400m at IN&M.
And then, we had the priceless spectacle of the Sunday Independent today publishing what looks like an ill-disguised copy of an error-ridden story in the British Telegraph newspaper yesterday, replete with the same mistakes! Britain hasn’t bailed out Ireland with a GBP 7bn loan, it’s only GBP 3.226bn and our bank bailout has officially cost €64bn, not €80bn as coincidentally cited in both articles. And you might have expected some balance in the Sunday Independent by pointing out that Ireland had bailed out Irish banks to cover losses, in part, incurred in the UK – remember Updown Court, “Britain’s most expensive house” for which Irish Nationwide lent €75m on a non-recourse basis with the property eventually selling for €35m, that’s just a small example of the losses that you and I are today shouldering in the UK. And of course we have given billions to the banks which have been used to repay unidentified bondholders, but bondholders understood to be mostly French, German and British.
But at least the Independent did report the third quarter results, published this past week, by this State’s biggest agency, and the Agency upon which we’re all still on the hook for €27bn. Because the Daily Business Post didn’t report them. Nor did the Irish Examiner onlin. Nor RTE onlin. Nor The.Paper.Of.Record itself online, the “Irish Times”.
The Irish Times itself is struggling to maintain its paper-of-record position.
Take a look at this article by its commercial property man, Jack Fagan – “Bank of Ireland shareholder Kennedy Wilson has bought State Street’s Irish banking headquarters in the south Dublin docklands for about €108 million.” Now take a look at Kennedy Wilson’s own take on the transaction here – KW “today announced that the company and one of its investment partners acquired a loan with an unpaid principal balance of €120 million. The loan is secured by an office building and adjacent three-acre site in Dublin. ”
Hands up anyone who thinks the Irish Times should know the difference between the sale of property and of a loan?
It was Irish Times columnist David Adams who this week informed us “weeks after the latest census figures confirmed, yet again, that only one-third of Northern Ireland’s Catholics want a united Ireland.” For those of us who watch censuses on both sides of the Border, that statement certainly jangled. Why? Because, the existing Northern Ireland census doesn’t ask the question – “do you want a united Ireland” – if it did, why on earth would Sinn Fein be angling for a referendum? What the current census does capture – for the first time because the question wasn’t asked in previous censuses – is how people in Northern Ireland consider themselves, and overall 25% or 457,482 regard themselves as Irish, 21% as Northern Irish and 40% as British and 14% as something else or nothing at all. How do Northern Irish Catholics see themselves? Well, the Census doesn’t actually say. What the Census does say is that there are 738,033 Catholic-identified citizens in Northern Ireland out of overall total of 1.8m population. So why is The.Paper.Of.Record claiming it already knows how people feel about a united Ireland.
Now, it is all very well to take anonymous pot-shots at the media in Ireland, but in truth there appears to be a real risk that an already emaciated business and economics reporting capability is being whittled down further. In recent weeks, Simon Carswell who knows as much as anyone about the banking collapse has departed to work as the Washington Correspondent for the Irish Times, Laura Noonan has moved to Reuters, her former colleague Emmet Oliver has long since jumped ship to the PR department at the IDA, Niamh Hennessey at the Examiner is in PR at AIB. There is still talent there, and apologies to Tom Lyons at the Sunday Independent for poking fun at his TCH report, because he is one of an increasingly small band of talent reporting on business and economics.
But having said that, recent events show that standards are sliding, and if you are the commercial media, eventually, the poor quality that drives a slide in your audience, and thus circulation and advertising will be self-defeating.